The National, Monday December 14th, 2015
CHURCHES play a vital role in primary health care service delivery in Papua New Guinea.
The Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Seventh-Day Adventist, Nazarene and other Christian denominations account for almost 80 per cent of the country’s health services.
Until only a few years ago, these churches were responsible for everything from building infrastructure, procurement and distribution of medical drugs and equipment and workers’ salaries and wages.
In recent times, the Government has taken over the responsibility of salaries and in some cases allocated operational grants to some of these vital establishments throughout the country.
However, what was a welcome move by the Government became problematic for the churches, which were not getting the funds on time.
The issue first came to light last year when the chairman of the Catholic Health Services, Archbishop Stephen Reichert, voiced concern that government funding for church health service providers was not received on time.
He said the release of salary and operation funds to the churches was often delayed.
Reichert said there had been frequent delays in the release of salary and operational grants for church-run facilities.
As a result, many church health workers were not paid for two or three months at a time.
Surely, this injustice and violation of the rights of church healthcare providers is avoidable.
In response, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill assured the churches that K148 million had been allocated to the Christian Health Services (CHS) in the past two years to pay for salaries of health workers. This amount is part of almost K4 billion that had been allocated to the PNG health sector over the same period.
It is heartening to note that the Government will continue to fund the Christian Health Services to improve health services in the vast rural areas.
O’Neill gave this assurance to CHS representatives during their conference in Port Moresby earlier this year.
And he thanked the organisation for playing a very important role in delivering services on health promotion, clinical care and training.
Indeed, the O’Neill Government and the Christian churches have built a good partnership in the delivery of basic health services throughout the country.
This partnership must be nurtured with greater understanding between and among the various parties for the continued and improved provision of health services.
It is a known fact that the government bureaucratic processes are too cumbersome and time consuming, which result in prolonged delays in the release of funds.
What may be considered normal system delays by a government institution could easily cause serious disruptions to the provision of churches health services.
The Prime Minister’s recommitment to the Church Health Services is most commendable and puts to rest fears by the various church health providers that they will continue to face problems of delayed government funding.
What must follow such commitment is ensuring that what is slotted to the various expenditure items is released on a timely manner.
The churches have previously spoken out on this critical funding issue, which is faced by many other institutions that are dependent on the public purse for the provision of services.
Besides the churches, there are other institutions including government agencies which had been facing similar funding problems in the past.
Archbishop Reichert’s call last year was a timely reminder to the O’Neill Government to crack the whip on the bureaucrats in Waigani to ensure timely payments are made to the churches.
Just as O’Neill warned on the bureaucratic delays in the payment of Tuition Fee Free funds earlier this year, the Government needs to ensure that churches get their funds on time to continue paying salaries of their health workers who in turn provide these vital services to our rural people.
All indications are that the church health service providers have received most of their funds this year.
Indeed, the Government’s support and financial assistance has answered the prayers of churches in driving the delivery of health services, especially in the rural parts of the country.
Nonetheless, much remains to be done to ensure that the churches continue to provide regular and efficient health services to the bulk of our people.